Two books have been consuming my spare time recently. “Indonesia Etc” by Elizabeth Pisani – I don’t ever read what might be described as a travel book usually, but this had received good reviews and seemed appropriate when I came across it at the Salts Mill bookshop. Mostly she writes about the further reaches of Indonesia, a massive country with thousands of islands spread out (along the line of a geological fault) and the fourth largest population in the world. She writes about generous hospitality, and the survival of long-held traditions in the face of the incursions of modern life and trading and technology, in a country massively rich in natural resources and fertile. The transition from living just to feed yourself and your village to living as a wage-slave in the capitalist economy. And then the contrast of these distant corners of Indonesia with the central island of Java, the capital Jakarta, the overcrowding and shanty towns and thousands upon thousands of small motorbikes constantly on the move. Everyone looks like a gangster. And the concept of gangster, of a “free man” (no particular mention of a free woman) is also significant in the film “The Act Of Killing”, where veterans of 1960s anti-communist death squads re-enact their executions for a contemporary documentary film crew, with pride and excitement, rather than self-questioning. To be a gangster, a “free man”, romantically on the edge of society – but in fact doing the dirty work of the military state, and thus free from impunity. Quite a disturbing film, and not one that would make you more enthusiastic to visit Indonesia!
The second book, David Harvey”s “Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism” bears some relation, at least in its emphasis on the importance and tolerance of crime, illegality, exploitation and the unofficial economy in the growth of capital and capitalism. Having struggled dutifully through Marx’s “Das Kapital” thirty years ago, through the thickets of of obscure idealist philosophising to describe the inherent nature of the commodity fetish, this book is a much more readable, clear, comprehensible analysis of capital/capitalism and its irresistible growth and seemingly unstoppable destructive proliferation. Highly recommended! I’m only halfway through, but very much looking forward to discovering what his practical suggestions are for countering and replacing this way of living we are all apparently stuck with.
It’s the kind of book I fondly imagine Jeremy Corbyn might have on his bookcase (and have read). Wishful thinking perhaps.
But without wishful thinking, how will we ever imagine, let alone achieve, an alternative future?